On Thursday, NASA released a statement strongly condemning the actions of three Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station, who recently posed with flags deemed anti-Ukraine propaganda. Photos posted by Russian state space company Roscosmos show the cosmonauts holding flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
“NASA strongly rebukes Russia for using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally contrary to the primary function of the station among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes,” NASA Press Secretary Jackie McGuinness emailed in a statement.
It’s a rare rebuke from NASA against Russia, the space agency’s main partner on the International Space Station. Despite ongoing tensions between the United States and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, NASA and Roscosmos have continued to work together to maintain continuous operations aboard the ISS, which is continuously manned by both American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. The relationship has lasted throughout the war, even as the head of Roscosmos has openly threatened to pull out of the ISS partnership, and Russia joked about possibly stranding an American astronaut in space. This is the first time NASA has openly denounced the actions of Russia and its partner, Roscosmos, in space during the invasion of Ukraine.
Roscosmos posted the photos on the company’s Telegram channel on July 4. The images show the three cosmonauts currently aboard the station. In the images, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov are holding the two flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. Liberation Day of the Luhansk People’s Republic! the caption of the post reads, according to Google Translate. “We celebrate both on Earth and in space.” The post came after the July 3 capture of the city of Lysychansk, the last major Ukrainian-owned city in Luhansk. The Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic are both Russian-backed separatist states in Ukraine.
Before this blatant political statement by cosmonauts, it was speculated that the same Russian crew made a statement when they first arrived at the ISS in March. The trio arrived in bright yellow jumpsuits of blue colors, which many interpreted as a show of support for Ukraine, whose flag contains bright yellow and blue. However, Roscosmos denied that the jumpsuits were a political statement, claiming they represented the college colors that all three cosmonauts attended.
Even with all the turmoil between the US and Russia, NASA officials have been steadfast that the relationship between the US space agency and Roscosmos remains strong. “Despite all that, we can collaborate in space with our Russian friends, our colleagues. The professional relationship between astronauts and cosmonauts, it hasn’t missed a beat,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson told the Associated Press in March. that we have in the civilian space program.”
In fact, NASA has said that Russia is still considering expanding its partnership with the ISS, and both NASA and Roscosmos have continued to work on an upcoming crew change in September, when a Russian cosmonaut on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will ride to the ISS while an American astronaut will fly on a Russian Soyuz capsule.